10 Things to do NOW in the veg plot - April
Seasoned gardeners will no doubt have already been pottering around getting the growing year off to an early start, especially since the UK spring has arrived mercifully early. However, if you are a novice or gardening lightweight, there is still plenty of time to get cracking on your 2009 harvest. Whether you’ve got an allotment, home garden space, a few patio pots, or merely a windowsill, it’s time to get ready, get set…
1) Invest in the soil The first rule of good gardening is: give to the soil and it will give back. If you are using an allotment or garden patch, you’ll need to keep up the nourishment throughout the year with compost in whatever form you can muster, and it’s especially important now as the season fires up. Allotmenteers should be entitled to free compost from the council, so phone them up and ask them to deliver a heap. If you don’t yet make your own compost, get started now – some good advice can be found here http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/composting/index.php .
2) Get sowing Transform take-away containers into seed trays by stabbing little holes in the bottom with the tip of a knife, then use the lid as a saucer. Fill with potting compost and plant seeds. Water well and cover with cling film until the seedlings just start to emerge. Use a spray bottle to water daily. Alternatively, use peat pots or halved toilet rolls densely filled with potting compost and pack them tightly together in a seed tray. See the list of what to sow now at the end of this article for a comprehensive list.
3) Consider companion planting Adding a few blooms to the veg patch is not only eye candy, but also attractive to ladybirds who then feed on unwanted pests, and may also distract some of those baddies away from your precious veg. Particular favourites are calendula, marigolds, nasturtiums and sunflowers, and you can start sowing them now, either indoors or out. These flowers are also edible.
4) Hoe at the ready With 13 to 15 hours of daily light this month, the soil is warming up and the weeds really start to get into the groove, and so must you by regularly hoeing or hand-picking the infant weedlings before they have time to take hold. Also, pull up as many well established weeds as you can so they don’t go to seed and proliferate. Young nettles are everywhere right now, and they make a perfect spring soup – don your gloves, pull them up, snip off the roots and find a nettle soup recipe.
5) Bye-bye brassicas If you have some brassicas still going from last year such as purple sprouting, Brussels sprouts and cavolo nero, they will probably be nearing their end. Once the shoots burst into flower - that’s all folks. Some of the leaves may still be tender, so cook or freeze them. As for the gargantuan plants, pull them up and compost what you can (not the stem). Dig some yummy compost into the soil where these hungry feeders will have left the soil rather bereft of nutrition.
6) Move your leeks If some of last year’s leeks are still hanging around, but you’re not ready to finish them off just yet and need the space they’re in, dig a hole which will accommodate them, and transplant them in a cluster to the hole and cover gently with soil. They should last a while longer. Alternatively, bring them into the kitchen, wash, slice and freeze in labeled bags. No need to blanch, and they’re ready to cook straight from the freezer.
7) Clear out your freezer We are now entering the “hungry gap”, a surprisingly meagre period in the fresh produce department while everything is just coming to life. It’s time to feast on all of last year’s veg that you so diligently stored in the freezer and make room for this year’s bounty.
8 ) Start collecting containers There’s never been a better time to get thrifty and recycle! Gather all your used plastic and ceramic pots for reuse and start acquiring some more. Save plastic containers and food tins to use as pots, especially large ones – try raiding recycling bins or ask at your local greasy spoon if you can have their baked bean, tomato and frying oil tins when they are empty. Wash them, poke holes in the bottom and you’re away.
9) Establish your anti-slug campaign There is little more disheartening then having your lovingly nurtured seedlings massacred overnight by a slug raid. Choose your weapon now. See some great suggestions here on “Killing with kindness” . Remember that it’s best to keep your compost bin as far away from the veg patch as possible, as slugs and snails breed here and will systematically destroy anything within a 10 foot radius, so beware!
10) Arm yourself with knowledge Get yourself inspired and keep up with the minutia with a few essential books. Vegetable Growing Month by Month by John Harrison is a superb basic book and a bargain at £5.99, available online with free seeds to boot. For some innovative ideas and a funky approach to basics, check out Growing Stuff: An Alternative Guide to Gardening — a guide on how to make the most out of small urban spaces and even how to grow vegetables if you don’t have any outdoor space. Finally, if you want a veg patch but simply can’t be bothered to do it yourself, Urban Vegetables will do it for you!
What to Sow in April / May:
Sow now in windowsill or greenhouse:
Sow seeds directly in the ground:
Onions / Shallots
Salsify / scorzonera
Plant already established, hardy seedlings in the ground:
Potatoes (early or maincrop)
Veg suitable for patio containers (*or in a windowbox):
Baby leaves of chard, mizuna, mustard, beet, cress*
Cabbage (kale, cavolo nero)
Onions, spring onions*
Peppers / chillies*
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